Sunday, March 19, 2017

Do current events affect what editors buy?

In your years as QOTKU, have you see the tenor of publishing change as presidential administrations change? My agent told me last month that the fiction market has been tough — and she expects it to be tougher — because a lot of the folks in New York have taken a bit of a (possibly justified) apocalyptic view of things the last two months. I’ve seen the same in a lot of the twitter feeds and blogs I follow, and I wondered whether you’ve seen current events affect what editors buy. It sounds obvious, but given the lag time between idea conception and a book appearing on the shelves (and the much shorter attention span of the buying public), have you seen a consistent correlation between topics that are talked about and what gets bought?

But it's not presidential administrations, it's broader than that. Or at least it was until this current administration became the only thing on anyone's hot topic list.

After 9/11 there was a real lag before we could pitch anything about 9/11. It was too raw for anything but serious non-fiction, and even that was a pretty tough sell.  I still remember weeping openly as I read the 9/11 Commission Report on the subway. Since this is NYC no one noticed, but I never took the book outside my apartment again.

I didn't consider anything that involved the assassination of president during the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency. Threats to his life increased three-fold compared to Bush 43, Clinton and Bush 41. I didn't want to be mentioned in the People article about where some nutcase got his ideas.

And we're certainly seeing a sea-change since November. There's no market for satire. Editors aren't looking for much of anything that's grim. There's enough grim (at least to their way of thinking) on the front page of the Times.

I think we're going to see an uptick in escapist fiction.

And I think we're going to see a lot of Resistance Fiction, as writers begin to talk about what this new zeitgeist feels like to them.

But the bottom line is you can NOT write for trends. Write the book you want to write. If it doesn't sell now, one thing I know for sure: markets turn.  


AJ Blythe said...

"But the bottom line is you can NOT write for trends. Write the book you want to write. If it doesn't sell now, one thing I know for sure: markets turn."

It's a relief to read your words, dear Queen. I've been worried about exactly this - that US politics will greatly affect what is being bought. Especially because US politics doesn't have the impact on my life the way it does on the people I want to contract my work.

And on that note, I have to ask... what does Bush 41 and Bush 43 mean? (and yes, I know they were Presidents and father/son, just not the significance of the numbers).

Kitty said...

AJ Blythe, Bush Sr. was the 41st president and Bush Jr. was the 43rd.

MA Hudson said...

Strange there's no market for satire. I've become a huge twitter fan since January because of I'm guaranteed of a good laugh every time I check in. But yeah, maybe things are just moving too fast for satirical literature. 'Post truth' is definitely stranger than anything in the fiction world!

Lennon Faris said...

Well, N=1 but I know escapist fiction and Resistance fiction is what *I* want to read right now. My tastes haven't changed, I just want more of it.

Hope everyone has an awesome writing day.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Trends baffle me. It's probably irrelevant to what I write anyhow. I am sure that current events probably impact my art in a subconscious way. When I pull my head out of my butt, current events just piss me off so I ignore them as best I can.

This is no world for an individualist who can't break everything into black and white, liberal and conservative, or even right or wrong. It's all shades of gray and glittering colors to me. I love individuals. I love their complexity and possibility. It's why I am such a character driven reader and writer. It's also why I am often despised. I can't seem to keep my mouth shut or pen capped.

People who get pulled into group think are panicky, fearful, irrational, and hateful. Their full and miraculous selves are suppressed by the oppressive weight of the group mentality. God help them should even one thought of their own stray from the group dogma. The group turns on the individual and destroys that singularity which threatens the cohesiveness of the group.

I want nothing to do with it. I love individuals too much to watch so many of them be herded into behavior that is unworthy of them. This grotesque collectivism unfortunately destroys art as well as it suppresses individual expression with its seductive pull that preys on the fear so many have of being alone.

There is a reason why books like Fahrenheit 451 made such an impact. We are always flirting with that line. Books burning. Critical thinking destroyed. I simply pray there are editors who look way past the short term and are somewhat immune to the politics of the moment or literature will suffer.

Great stories are timeless. Great editors and agents know this. Such work is always strong even as perceptions and societal mores change. So the point of this rant is I am going to write what I write. Devil and publishing be damned. After all the only constant in life is change.

Theresa said...

Very, very interesting. I'm surprised, too, that satire is out now. Maybe it's only palatable in small bites, like tweets. I'm also wondering what kind of a comment it was on the last 8-10 years that post-apocalyptic, zombie, werewolf books were so popular.

AJ Blythe said...

Thanks, Kitty. I probably should have been able to guess that *forehead slap*

BJ Muntain said...

So... you mean science fiction might be more popular? Maybe even... space opera?

EM: You said, "This is no world for an individualist who can't break everything into black and white, liberal and conservative, or even right or wrong. It's all shades of gray and glittering colors to me."

And that's exactly the kind of writer the world needs right now. Someone who can put the nuances of the issues deep into someone's brain without them realizing it. I only hope I'm up to the task. It sounds like you are.

BJ Muntain said...

OFF TOPIC: James Scott Bell (I know, I spoke too much about him yesterday, but his latest TKZ post caught my eye) just put out an e-book (available in paperback too) called Marketing For Writers Who Hate Marketing: The No-Stress Way To Sell Books Without Losing Your Mind.

I haven't read it yet. I just saw it on his TKZ blog post this morning, and thought it might be interesting. I still haven't bought the book Janet suggested last year, because funds. But since I'm considering helping writers market once I'm able to work again, those two books are going to be my first to buy as soon as I can.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

BJThanks for posting the James Scott Bell article. Anything on that topic helps. Getting published, thanks to this blog, seems like the easiest part of the process. Staying published.,. The horror of it :/

I do hope we Sci-fi and Fantasy authors get a bit more love in the market. It is still my favorite genre to read and write, but there are precious few authors who do it well. I think it comes down to character because even a great story falls flat without the characters to push it through. I hope the extra time I have taken writing a new book in my old world will produce something special. Maybe. Maybe not, but I do love writing it.

A bit off-topic, I saw some of the New Leaf agents are getting together to offer a query and first pages critique in mid-April through Writer's Digest. That could be quite useful for those flirting with the query trenches. I am considering it myself, but similar to John of the Manuscript Frain/, I seem unable to select a first chapter for my master work wannabe. Sadness.

Kitty said...

AJ Blythe, I figured you were low on caffeine ;~)

John Davis Frain said...

I wonder, do people say Cleveland 22 and Cleveland 24 to reflect the different moods of Grover Cleveland?

(And Cleveland 23 for LeBron James? Oops -- this is the blog that didn't know there was a Super Bowl going on; I'm guessing Cleveland basketball doesn't even warrant a cavalier observation.)

Matt Adams said...

Here's one issue that's arisen from the election, though. For the past hundred or so years, presidents have been rather measured people -- even when you disagreed with their policies, you could assume (and write one) like they were well-meaning, thoughtful and people who understood the gravity of the office. You might have been wrong in that perception, but it was the vision of the presidency that most people carried with them.

That's not the case now. Not to applaud or condemn the current president, but he's been prone to off the cuff commentary and reaction so far and in the process has changed the image of the presidency from one of cautious action to something else. His detractors hate that; his supporters love it. That's the nature of America right now.

That's an issue for me, because in the books i've written, presidents and presidential actions play a role. They aren't named and aren't really identifiable, but they act presidential. And reading what I've written, that almost seems quaint these days. I'm not trying to say one thing or another about the guy in charge, but the American landscape has changed significantly in the last four months.

For example, if you're writing about an illegal immigrant, even if that's not part of the story, do you now have to incorporate some aspects of the new American laws and standards into the character? Even if you don't want to write about anything dealing with deportation, that new fear is a part of immigrant life now, and just ignoring it seems like something an agent or editor would consider unrealistic.

You should always write what you want to write. But if you're writing that's set in this world, I think you have to acknowledge this world and understand that what seemed natural and accurate in October may not be the case in April.

Colin Smith said...

I have just a couple of points. First, along the lines of what Elise said, the amount of fear and dystopia I see from the publishing industry on my Twitter feed bothers me. My theological convictions do place me more on the conservative end of issues, but I'm not a Republican, and not a fan of the current president. However, I wonder if the left-leaning politics of publishing blind the industry to the fact that there is still a large portion of the country that is actually happy about this new administration. I'm sure when it comes down to it, what sells will trum--supercede what's politically comfortable for most publishers. I'm all for both sides leaving their echo chambers and actually talking to one another as human beings with ideas, and world views, who may not agree, but at least deserve a respectful hearing.

My other point is a bit more personal... yesterday, Melanie said:
Colin, As I was reading through several days of comments I was, once again, struck by how hilarious you are. Witty, sharp, ironic, and clever. I hope whatever you're working on, it has a comedic flair.

Of course, you're too kind, Melanie. But it does make we wonder. Honestly, my fiction over the past few years has tended toward the dark, and not particularly comedic, for no other reason than the nature of the story ideas that have come to mind. But given what Janet said, perhaps I should rethink my strategy?

Just a thought. :)

Joseph Snoe said...

Revelation: For years my WIP (novel, manuscript, project, baby), 'Escape from Brazil" was a thriller. Now, I realize, it's escapist fiction.

Donnaeve said...

Colin I agree a bunch with what Melanie said. You're super witty and I've often read your comments wishing I could think that quickly on my feet.

OP shared this, "My agent told me last month that the fiction market has been tough — and she expects it to be tougher — because a lot of the folks in New York have taken a bit of a (possibly justified) apocalyptic view of things the last two months."

I think that's an interesting/curious statement, although it could very well be true.

So, everyone, maybe take heart from this: I get Publisher's Marketplace which is a snapshot of all the deals out there. Out of curiosity, I did a search on "Fiction." (Fiction on the site = debut, horror, romance, inspirational, thriller, mystery/crime, new adult, paranormal, sci-fi, westerns, general/other.)

For Jan 2017 there were total of 131 deals reported. In January of 2016 there were 109.

I thought, well, look me look at February. For February 2017, there were 141. For February 2016, there were 128. March 2017 - so far it's 84. In March 2016 (leap year) it was 128, and that meant approximately 4.4 deals a day. It's trending almost identical for March '17 at 4.4 deals a day.

In other words, I haven't seen anything in the past three months that makes me, as a writer worry about fiction, per se. Then again, what I have access to, and knowledge of, is likely only a small piece of the overall picture, although each day I get a Pub Mktplace email with the deals listed, and I'm not seeing a lot of change in what's being bought.

Maybe some buying change is yet to come, and will sneak up on us like a tsunami. Maybe not. I think I recall correctly QOTKU only said recently in the past few months, something along the lines of "your stories are needed now, more than ever."

And with that, back to the writing for me!

Jessica said...

This was one of the rare cases I guessed Janet's answer based on the title. I can't add much, but it's important to remember that we are humans, not robots. People get weary of politics, they get frustrated with seeing too many vampire romances, they want something fresh and new...even if they go back to old favorites a few years later. It makes sense that editors and readers follow a trend of their own making. I've noticed it even within myself. I often beta read manuscripts (as practice for one day becoming an editor! Fingers crossed!), and recently I had one with a racist rant in it. Normally I would have brushed it off, but I just couldn't this time. I was so tired of seeing the hate in the news, from friends and relatives and at school...I just couldn't take one more minute of it. I had to close the book for several days before I could come back and finish it. We are people--we get tired. I imagine that's how editors are feeling too.

Sorry it took so long to comment again! School and beta reading has been hectic. I hope you're all doing well :)

Craig F said...

Part of the reason I shelved my thrillers (for a while) is that I painted the FBI as fools in two of them. I don't really hate them for the epic 700 page file they have with my name on it, they are going to have it tough enough in the next few years without me piling on.

I hope sci-fi stays strong or gets stronger. Writing that I can pick at all of the governments on this planet and not have to pick at anyone in particular.

Four years, jeez.

Julie Weathers said...


For example, if you're writing about an illegal immigrant, even if that's not part of the story, do you now have to incorporate some aspects of the new American laws and standards into the character?

There are no new American laws. It's just that some people are actually being allowed to enforce them for a change. There's a difference.

Matt Adams said...

Julie -- I wasn't commenting on the actions or the laws or anything of the sort.

But even by your statement, it's different -- the threat of deportation is much realer now than it was in December. That's the point of what I'm saying. When you're trying to keep your fiction as realistic as possible, don't you think fiction that ignores these kinds of sea changes runs the risk of sounding naive or unrealistic.

More importantly, if you are then trying to sell your work to New York to agents and editors who have a more liberal worldview (at least according to the Twitter feeds and blogs I follow), then do you need to reflect those kinds of changes in your work? And if you've already don the work, then are you better off revising to not match a trend, but reflect the world as it is rather than as it was? Does it require you to time-stamp where it didn't before, or is your work going to have an implied timestamp due to the people involved? I don't know, but when you're writing contemporary fiction, do you need to represent the "real" world, or do you think you're okay with the one you created? And if you don't, do you run the risk of being alternate universe fiction, like Fatherland or IQ84?

Unknown said...

This blog is like a good movie. When you come back and read it again, you find new things of interest.

I loved the answer the first time, my eyes adopted my mouth's ability to smile as I read it.

When I came back, I was struck by the word sea-change. What a great word, huh? I'm sure many of you already knew its etymology, but I didn't. Looked it up. Turns out, the word was from Shakespeare in The Tempest which, of course, makes it an even cooler word.

I'm gonna use it during dinner, see if anyone gives me a second look. Unfortunately, my kids know better anymore. I can already hear my oldest son. Oh boy, here we go.

John Davis Frain said...

Didn't mean to go all rogue there as Unknown. My wife kidnapped my account and I forgot to reclaim it before hitting Send.

I think I figured out a way around the 3-comment-a-day rule!

Colin Smith said...

John: You mean Unknown Manuscript was you?! Wow--I had no idea. You hid that one well... ;)

BJ Muntain said...

Unknown Manuscript? Anything like the Unknown Comic? John, were you wearing a paper bag over your head? You don't have to, you know.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

"I think we're going to see an uptick in escapist fiction."

Y E S!!!!

Thank you, my queen. May at least one agent who has my sub on their desk realize I'm a brilliant escapist author with inventory and high star Amazon reviews.

Donnaeve said...

Well geez, y'all. I thought escapist fiction was something new, and so I go look it up and it's everything I mention above under "Fiction" in Pub Mktplace. (make that !!!)

So, I did a little more research - and here's what I find. Bearing in mind this is January 2017, but still...I don't think I'd see anything much diff in Feb and March.

(Take heart Her Grace, Heidi!) Take heart all!

Of those January 2017 131 sales:

General/other = 30
Women's Romance = 44 Heidi!
Debut = 12
Horror = 2 (write like Laird Barron to see this number go up)
Inspirational = 3
New Adult = 0
Paranormal = 3
Sci-Fi = 12 (Elise, maybe some of the Fantasy genre too)
Thriller = 12 (Craig!)

Donnaeve said...

*clarification... these are stats from January 2017

Colin Smith said...

Donna: I don't see any numbers for song parodies. I'm getting quite concerned now... :)

Anonymous said...

Matt, you make a good point. Reminds me of going back to re-read some of the old cold war spy novels that I loved when they were popular, but now seem quaintly dated (even though I still love them).

I have a very rough draft of a sort-of-political thriller that I set aside a couple years ago because I didn't think I had the writerly chops to do it justice. I loved the premise and the characters and knew it was only a matter of time before I got back to it. But now . . . I don't think it will ever be tenable. And I do mean not ever, even if/when things change. What a shame. Another reason, if anyone needed one, not to hesitate or delay!

I agree with the sentiment of not wanting to read (or write) grim and gritty right now.

Colin: I agree with Melanie. I frankly assumed whatever you were writing had strong elements of your humour in it. It such a big part of your voice. Have you considered writing an epic adventure/romp for a young-ish (teen?) age group? It wouldn't necessarily be titled Tales of Carkoon, but you're awfully talented, and highly entertaining, with that type of storytelling.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why you're a Republican.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin I too join the Melanie refrain (not to be confused with John the Manuscript Frain); you have an amazing flair for wit and humor. That should not at all prevent you from writing dark stories. Really, there is nothing more compelling than a lovable psychopath. It causes all sorts of internal conflicts with the reader.

Felix is the serial killer? But...but...I love Felix. He's so charming and witty. How could he have carved out all those livers and spleens of all those very decent people? It just can't be Felix. He's a vegetarian for crying out loud.

AJ Blythe said...

Colin, you say you are writing dark and not comedic... are you sure? Anyone beta read your ms? 'Cause I just don't see how your natural voice wouldn't have crept onto the pages.

Craig F said...

But Colin has always said that he was the quiet guy in the corner nursing the Newcastle Brown Ale. You know that every time someone goes postal a neighbor says:

"He was a quiet guy, said hi occasionally and gave me a brown ale a time or two."

Perhaps there is a dark side hiding in there. Of course this is from a guy who dated an FBI RA's daughter in high school and was forever marked for it. That bastard hated me so much he haunted his house to keep me out.

Donna: I am going to go sci-fi. I think I have more of it in my system. If it creates a brand I will someday release the thrillers. They are the backstory for the sci-fi anyway. They are the story of how and why they left the Earth.

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Thanks, Donna Eve, for your research on Publisher's Marketplace; very hopeful.

John Davis Frain said...

Satire may be dead, Colin, but dark comedy. That is true escapist fiction. Get on that like drool on a baby, my friend.

Also, tomorrow is Reveal Day for the 2017 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Perfect time to practice your escapist storytelling!

Colin Smith said...

Thanks, guys. I really wasn't fishing for compliments, but your comments have been encouraging. Maybe after I've finished the short story I've started that might involve people getting murdered and people not being very happy at all, I'll give this whole new "funny" angle some serious thought.

Jack Slasher's final stalk of the night was nearly over. Mavis stopped near the street light. Jack paused ten steps behind, blending in with the shaded wall. Mavis turned, then slowly walked on. Jack took five large, swift strides, and in one well-practice move his hand was over Mavis's mouth, and a knife at her neck.

"Hello, my love," he breathed into her ear. Mavis tried to yelp into his hand to no avail. "Tell me," Jack hissed, "have you heard the one about the dyslexic agnostic insomniac? Huh?"

"" Mavis said, panic in her voice.

"He was up all night wondering if there was a dog."

As Jack walked away, all he could hear, aside from his steady footsteps, was the sound of Mavis's dying gasps as she laughed herself to death...